After President Musharraf’s earlier offer of unconditional talks,
there has finally come a welcome response from Prime Minister Vajpayee.
During a speech at a cricket ground in Srinagar, on 18th April, Prime
Minister Vajpayee opened the space for continuing the peace dialogue with
Pakistan which had been disrupted after the Agra talks when he said: “We
are again extending the hand of friendship, but hands should be extended
from both sides….All issues can be resolved through talks, nothing
can be solved through war”. This statement constitutes a clear expression
of readiness for talks leading to a peaceful settlement of the Kashmir
dispute. The ambiguity however lies in whether or not the talks are to
be unconditional. While this sagacious initiative by the Indian Prime
Minister is a challenge for the Indian establishment to rethink its Kashmir
policy, it is equally an opportunity for the Pakistan government to address
the political and military realities, and reconstruct its own Kashmir
policy in the context of Pakistan’s best interests. In this article
we will indicate the framework for a Kashmir policy review, and the first
steps towards a lasting peace between Pakistan and India that can be undertaken.
Our first proposition is that the imperative for unconditional talks emanates
from the logic of the apparently irreconcilable positions of Pakistan
and India on the Kashmir dispute on the one hand, and their expressed
desire for seeking a peaceful resolution on the other. Consider. Before
the Srinagar statement of Prime Minister Vajpayee of 18th April, the Indian
government held the view that Pakistan is sponsoring ‘cross border
militancy’, and that this militancy must stop before talks can begin.
Pakistan government’s view on this matter by contrast, is that it
is doing its best to stop such incursions and is willing to facilitate
an international monitoring regime on the line of control to demonstrate
its intent. So long as both sides maintain these counter posed positions
the status quo of no talks, and worse still a no war, no peace situation
will persist. The very logic of suggesting talks for a lasting peace in
such a situation, is premised on two assumptions:
- The talks will be unconditional.
- India’s concern for cross border militancy will be systematically
addressed in the overall context of a negotiated settlement of the Kashmir
It follows therefore that India’s offer for peace talks, is inconsistent
with the demand for ending cross border terrorism as a prior condition
for such talks. The very imperative for talks and ending the current deadlock,
emerges out of the fact that a no war no peace situation is fraught with
a high risk of the current low intensity conflict escalating into a full-scale
war. (See my Daily Times article of February 27, 2003). That both sides
once again wish to begin peace talks, indicates that they may now be unwilling
to take this risk, and in any case may be unable to resist the international
pressure to shift out of the status quo for establishing sustainable peace.
If talks begin, there is a real possibility now of arriving at a negotiated
settlement of the Kashmir dispute. For this to happen however, the agenda
of the talks must include a minimal outcome: an agreement on a subsequent
multi staged negotiation process with timelines for each stage and a target
date for the final outcome of a settlement of the Kashmir dispute. To
encourage the Indian government to translate Prime Minister Vajpayee’s
offer of talks into action, the government of Pakistan could perhaps give
an immediate statement expressing the hope that cross border incursions
on either side by non-governmental entities would end with joint efforts
by Pakistan and India, and the bilateral talks could be a first step in
The government of Pakistan would now need to conduct a serious and imaginative
review of its Kashmir policy as preparatory homework for the concrete
negotiations that could be expected to begin after the initial talks have
ended. Such a review must be premised on the proposition that in negotiating
the Kashmir dispute Pakistan comes first. Kashmir may be the ‘unfinished
business of partition’. However it is time to realize that improving
the economic conditions of the people of Pakistan, of providing them security
of life and property and establishing a sustainable democracy together
constitute the raison d’etre of Pakistan. They constitute therefore
an even more important unfinished business of partition.
Achieving a sustainable and principled peace with India has now become
essential for securing the freedom and well being of the Pakistani nation.
Consider. At the moment every third household in Pakistan is hungry, while
one out of every four Pakistanis is suffering from preventable and treatable
disease. The majority of the people are deprived of basic necessities
such as safe drinking water, sanitation, health care and education. Forty
seven million Pakistanis, who subsist below the poverty line, live in
their make shift shelters in constant dread of murder, rape and theft.
The majority of them do not have access over the institutions of justice
when crimes are committed against their person and family members. Forty
per cent of Pakistan’s children are suffering from malnutrition,
resulting in stunting of the body. This results in an impaired ability
to learn and play, so crucial to the creative experience of childhood.
Thirty eight per cent of them do not have access over education. Thus,
a large proportion of Pakistan’s children, the future of the country,
are unable to open their eyes to the world through education, or to walk
upon it firm of limb and hopeful of heart. Overcoming these inhuman conditions
of existence is necessary to make the independence of the nation, meaningful,
and to secure the future of Pakistan.
We must remember that in spite of the wonderful work being done by many
development NGOs in Pakistan even after a decade of effort they are still
covering only 0.01 per cent of the current poor population. Therefore
the necessary (though not sufficient) condition for overcoming poverty,
and providing health care and education to the people of Pakistan is substantially
accelerating the growth rate of GDP. If the poor law and order situation
within the country and conflict with India continues (the two may be interlinked),
the most optimistic GDP growth target we can aim at is about five per
cent per annum. Given existing income inequality, and the government’s
budgetary constraints, with even a five per cent GDP growth rate, there
can be no significant improvement in the appalling poverty situation.
Serious poverty reduction and rapid improvement in the provision of basic
services requires a GDP growth rate of over nine per cent. This target
can only be reached with a substantial increase in domestic and foreign
private investment. The hard fact is that achieving these targets for
investment, GDP growth and poverty reduction requires as a necessary condition,
peace with India.
The prospects of peace talks between Pakistan and India can be the prelude
to a negotiated settlement of the Kashmir dispute and the establishment
of a lasting peace in the subcontinent. Such a peace is vital for securing
the freedom and well being of the people of Pakistan. Yet, to actualize
this possibility, Pakistan will have to review its Kashmir policy and
to conduct negotiations on the basis of placing Pakistan first.